The Balkan country of Croatia is a gorgeous land with a long and complex history. It’s placement between Central and Southeast Europe, and across the Adriatic from Italy, means that it’s been at the center of many military conflicts over the millennia.
It is primarily due to these conflicts, that you’ll find some of the loveliest old castles in Croatia. Built as strategic defense, these impressive fortresses reflect the concerns, culture, and architectural styles of their time and place. Visiting them is a wonderful way to gain a deeper knowledge of Croatia, and all that makes it unique. Not least because many of the castles and fortresses on this list have their own museums!
These are the most beautiful, interesting, and historically significant castles in Croatia.
Entrance fee: 20 HRK ($3.10) / Student price – 10 HRK ($1.55)
Hours: Monday – Sunday, 10:00 to 18:00
Once an invaluable strategic fortress, Nehaj Castle sits right on the edge of the rough coastline. It was used as a defence against the Turks and the invasion of the Ottoman Empire in 1558. From here, the inhabitants of Senj managed to resist numerous attempts to seize control of the strategic town.
To build the much-needed fortress, churches and monasteries outside the town walls were broken down, and the pieces used to create the stark structure.
The history of Nehaj Castle is very much tied up with local culture and survival, and a visit here will not only be beautiful, but really interesting.
If you’re in the area, you shouldn’t miss it. Framed by the ocean, the square fortress is strikingly impressive.
Location: Northern Croatia
Entrance fee: 40 HRK ($6.20) / 20 HRK ($3.10) for children
Hours: April 1 – October 3, 09:00 – 20:00 | November 1 – March 31, 09:00 – 17:00
A fairytale castle sitting atop a tall hill, Trakoscan Castle is one of the most beautiful in the country. Built as a defensive fortress in the 13th century, the castle was passed between numerous Croatian families and nobles over the centuries. It was owned by an army leader, a Catholic bishop, and the Counts of Celje, among others.
Today, Trakoscan Castle is a charming, romantic place to visit to experience local history. It houses a museum and overlooks a forested valley and lake. The castle is a little run-down, having been abandoned for a portion of its recent history. But it, and it’s lovely grounds, are well worth the visit. If you want to make a day trip from Zadar, it takes about 1.5hours drive.
Location: Donji Miholjac
Entrance fee: Free
Hours: Visits are on request
Constructed in 1903 in the English Tudor style, Mailath is the most recent addition to Croatia’s castles. Despite its relative youth, this castle has quite the history!
It was built on the site of an 1818 castle which, when the Austro-Hungarian Emperor came to visit, was considered a bit below standard. This, despite the castle having once been a local prize. So the Count Mailath promised to have a castle befitting an emperor built, and did.
The new castle has 50 rooms, an expansive park, and a glasshouse for tropical plants. The Austrian Arch Duke Franz Ferdinand often came to hunt here with his good friend Count Maiilath, and visited just 3 months before his assassination.
Hard times befell the count and his family (along with much of the world, after WW1 and the 1914 market crash). They sold the castle to the Jewish Schlesinger family, who lived here until they had to flee the Nazi occupation.
This castle isn’t a big tourist attraction, so if you do choose to visit, you’ll certainly not be surrounded by crowds. It’s also very close to Djurdjevac, which is home to one of the coolest Croatian legends, in our books!
Entrance fee: 25 HRK ($3.90) / Students & pensioners – 15 HRK ($2.30) / children under 5 free
Hours: Tuesday – Thursday 10:00 – 15:00 | Fri: 11:00 – 16:00 | Sat, Sun: 10:00 – 16:00
The best-preserved castle in Istria, Pazin Castle is a marvel. It sits on the edge of a rocky cliff face and overlooks the deep gorge of the Pazinčica river – which is featured in another of our favourite Croatian legends!
The origin of the castle is unknown, but it’s first mentioned in 983 AD. Since then, many additions and modifications have been made, mostly to keep up to date with warfare and the weapons of the times.
When dangers lessened in the 18th century, changes were made to the fortification to make it more habitable. Bulwarks were taken down, windows added, and rooms decorated. A bit of welcome beautification!
Today, the castle houses two museums – the Pazin Town Museum and the Istrian Ethnographic Museum. It’s well worth the visit, more for its stark beauty than anything else, but there’s a lot to enjoy. We recommend visiting on the first Tuesday of the month if possible, when you can also enjoy the charming town fair.
Location: Village of Klis, 15km from Split
Entrance fee: 40 HRK ($6.20) / 20 HRK ($3.10) for children
Hours: Sunday – Monday, 09:00 to 16:00
Klis dates back over 2000 years, making it the oldest castle on this list! By now, it’s more ruin than castle, but it makes for a fascinating visit. It’s also really close to the popular Croatian destination of Split.
Klis Fortress began its illustrious history as a stronghold for an Illyrian tribe before being taken by the Romans. When the Roman Empire fell, it became the seat for a number of Croatian kings. It was an integral part of the defence against the Mongols, and later the Ottomans.
In 1537, Klis fortress fell to the Ottomans. And in the 19th century, it was even under Napoleon’s control! Being such an important strategic position, it’s been part of many strategies and many wars. It’s a dream for people interested in history.
The ancient place can be explored freely, without lines or closed-off areas. They even allow dogs.
Entrance fee: 20 HRK ($3.10) / 10 HRK ($1.55) for children
Hours: Sunday – Friday, 08:00 – 20:00 | Saturday 10:00 – 20:00
A historic stronghold just off the Kupa River, Ozalj is surrounded by beauty. You’ll reach it by strolling across an old wooden bridge crossing the river. With a decent bit of elevation, it also has a lovely view of the countryside.
Ozalj castle isn’t just pretty, though. It’s one of the oldest in Croatia still in good shape, dating back to the early 13th century.
The old castle is the site of a famous event – the Magnate Conspiracy. Here, the joint owners of the castle, the families of Zrinski and Frankopan, attempted a coup to overthrow foreign rule by the Hapsburgs.
Interestingly, this coup was originated by Nikola Zrinski, who was then killed by a wild boar on a hunting trip. This left his younger brother, Petar, to take the reins. The conspiracy floundered for a few years, never gaining much traction. And when they did start to have some success, King Leopold swiftly had them arrested and executed.
Today, Ozalj Castle houses a museum and a library, where you can learn a lot more about the history of the area, and the many more stories this old fortress has to tell.
Veliki Tabor Castle
Location: Northwest Croatia
Entrance fee: 25 HRK ($3.90) / Children, students, and pensioners – 15 HRK ($2.30)
Hours: Monday – Friday, 09:00 – 17:00 | Saturdays – Sundays, 10:00 – 18:00
One of the most beautiful monuments in Croatia is Veliki Tabor Castle. It was first built in the 15th century, in the late Gothic style. It’s incredibly defensible, with two guardhouses, a bastion, and an outer defence wall. There was a lot of defending to be done at the time, so it’s no wonder.
Today, the castle is one of the most visited in the country. It’s got an impressive museum, and is surrounded by lush countryside. We’d recommend exploring the area while you’re visiting – after all, Croatia is famous for its phenomenal landscapes.
Castle legend – Fridrik & Veronika
The castle has a legend – one of forbidden love and tragic loss, of course. According to the Croatian legend, the young son of the count fell in love with a fair haired maiden while horseback riding. Their names were Fridrik and Veronika.
His father refused their marriage, so the two eloped and married in secret. But the count sent his men after them, and caught Fridrik, while Veronika fled.
Fridrik was locked up in the castle’s tower for over four years, before his father caught Veronika and had her brought there. A trial was arranged to judge whether she was a witch, but she was found innocent of all but love. The count didn’t care, and had her killed in a giant vat of water. Her body was built into the wall, and you can still hear her wails when the wind blows today.
Location: Stari Grad, Hvar Island
Entrance fee: 20 HRK ($3.10) / 10 HRK ($1.55) for children
Hours: Monday – Sunday, 10:30 – 13:30 & 18:00 – 20:30
A very uncommon castle is this fortification on the Croatian island of Hvar. Here, the early 16th-century Croatian poet Petar Hektorović fortified his summer home. This was so that it could act as a shelter for the locals when the island was under attack by the Ottomans.
Petar had grown very successful writing about the fishermen and the local land that so inspired him. It was important to the poet that he could create a safe space for everyone. Because of this, the ‘castle’ has fascinating elements of island paradise and stoney fortification. Definitely worth a visit if you’re visiting the Croatian islands!
The Renaissance castle has a sea-water fishpool at its center, with living quarters and wells surrounding it. Everything is enclosed and protected, with a tower and a walled garden where herbs and medicinal plants were grown.
It also has over twenty inscriptions from the poet, mainly in Croatian and Latin. It’s like a stone book, with enchanting poems and statements. On the outer wall, for example, he wrote ‘Alas the days flow by like waves and do not return’.
Entrance fee: 25 HRK ($3.90)
Hours: Tuesday – Friday 09:00 – 17:00 | Saturday – Sunday 09:00 – 13:00
Closed on Mondays and public holidays
Varazdin is a stunning historical town in the Northern tip of Croatia. With beautiful buildings showcasing the country’s Medieval, Renaissance, and Baroque architectural styles, the town is a marvel for anyone interested in history.
The most beautiful is Varaždin Castle, which has been central to the town’s defense and safety, as well as the local culture. Along with its defensive walls, the castle has a chapel and various churches within its historic complex.
The castle has been rebuilt and renovated several times throughout its lifetime. Now, it houses a lovely museum, with exhibits including cannons and firearms, sceptres and signet rings.
Entrance fee: 15 HRK ($2.30) / Children – 5 HRK ($0.80)
Hours: Sunday – Friday, 09:00 – 20:00 | Saturday 09:00 – 14:00
With an incredible view over the ocean and Old Town of Trsat, this historic castle is one of the oldest on the coast. It sits on a hill above the town, and has been used as a strategic position since the 13th century. Before this fortress was built, the hill it sits on was already well-used by the ancient Romans as part of their defence system in the area.
The fortress features a Mausoleum and an old dungeon, and is often used as a site for concerts and theatre performances. Maybe when you visit you’ll be lucky, and get to watch a local performance!
The castle also has a charming little cafe with a tremendous view. It’s really popular among locals, and is considered a bit of a pilgrimage site. So you’ll be rubbing shoulders more with the locals than fellow tourists, which can be a wonderful way to learn more about the culture.
Last thoughts on Croatian Castles
Well, there you have it, the 10 best castles in Croatia. Have we missed a castle you’d like added to the list? We’d love to hear about it, so we can add it here (and to our itinerary).
These fortresses, aristocratic mansions, and traditional castles are some of the most beautiful, historic places to visit in Croatia.
The country is known for its incredible natural beauty, which is no doubt one of the main reasons to visit. But punctuating a trip with these fantastic destinations is sure to elevate your experience and introduce you to fascinating elements of the past.
Keen on castles? Check out our post on the best castles in Hungary!